SGI members follow the teachings of Nichiren, a Buddhist monk who lived in thirteenth-century Japan. Nichiren’s teachings provide a way for anybody to readily draw out the enlightened wisdom and energy of Buddhahood from within their lives, regardless of their individual circumstances. Each person has the power to overcome all of life’s challenges, to live a life of value and become a positive influence in their community, society and the world.
Nichiren was born in 1222 in Japan, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The common people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the Buddhist teachings had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. While a young priest, he set out to find an answer to the suffering and chaos that surrounded him. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish.
The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect.
Based on his study of the sutra Nichiren established the invocation (chant) of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren saw the Lotus Sutra as a vehicle for people’s empowerment—stressing that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness while they are alive.
Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. He called the feudal authorities to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. His stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time.
Nichiren’s claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. Throughout, he refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority.
Nichiren’s legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for people’s happiness and the desire to transform society into one which respects the dignity and potential of each individual life.